GRASGEHREN, GER, 3 FEB 2013 – After all the weather-related trials and tribulations of the past several days and all the false starts and program adjustments, an incredible and dedicated organizing team was able to put in the necessary work through Saturday and into the wee hours of the morning on Sunday to pull off what turned out to be an exceptional race at the Audi FIS Freestyle World Cup ski cross tour in Grasgehren, Germany.
Despite the often heavily falling snow, the track was in excellent shape for racing, and in front of a boisterous German crowd the men and ladies' of ski cross put on an impressive show. And at the end of the day, it was the two most experience skiers on the World Cup circuit who were able to overcome the difficulties of the weekend and grind out the wins.
In the ladies' race, it was the legend Ophelie David who was able to claim her first victory of the season to go along with two 2nd place finishes and a 3rd already claimed in 2012-13. David, 36, has been skiing as well as ever this season and on Sunday she showed the depth of her experience, pulling out to an early lead and then pulling smoothly away as Christina Manhard (GER), Marie Berger Sabbatel (FRA), and Georgia Simmerling (CAN) did battle behind her.
While David is a fan favorite anywhere she goes, it was hometown girl Christina Manhard that gave the crowd its biggest thrill with what was perhaps the single most impressive day of her racing career. Manhard finished first in qualifiers, and then went on to win both her tough quarter and semi-final heats. Though she wasn't able to keep pace with David in the finals, Manhard was able to out-battle tough Canadian Georgia Simmerling and capture 2nd place for the first podium of her career.
Simmerling lost out on a second podium for the season in heartbreaking fashion, when she overshot her landing on the final jump and crashed just before the finish line. Skiing tight behind Simmerling through the entire course was Berger Sabbatel, and the diminutive Frenchwoman was able to avoid the chaos and slip across the line just ahead of the falling Canadian for what was also the first podium of her career.
Berger Sabbatel has skied exceptionally all season, and is the only woman to record a top-10 finish in every race thus far. It seems likely that her podium in Grasgehren will only be the first of many.
Organizers pulled off an epic feat to run Sunday's race, overcoming rain, wind, and heavy snow earlier in the week to prepare a first-rate track and host an excellent race
Ophelie David (FRA) recorded the 51st podium and 25th victory of her career, and shows no signs of slowing down in her 11th season on tour
David's win moves her into 2nd on the SX overall points list, just behind Fanny Smith (SUI), while Berger-Sabbatel's showing moves her into 4th
Christina Manhard (GER) thrilled the German crowd, scoring the top result for the host contingent and registering the first podium of her career in front of friends and family
Heidi Zacher (GER) returned from a year long absence due to injury to win the small final and finish 5th
Ophelie David - “I've been on the podium this year, but I haven't won, and you know nothing is better than a victory. Especially this week, it was so hard to manage with all those delays. Yesterday when I saw that snowstorm I thought, 'Oh, the race will never take place.' But it's because of the amazing work of the German crew here and their motivation. We arrived this morning and they (the organizers) made a race. And they made a perfect race!”
The Audi FIS World Cup ski cross tour now moves to Sochi, Russia, for a huge week for freestyle as the test events are staged in the lead up to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.